Gatineau student teachers protest unpaid internships

Students studying to become teachers in Gatineau, Que., are blocking the entrances to their classrooms to protest unpaid internships, which they say are harming their mental health and hampering their academic success.

They're among more than 54,000 university and CEGEP students across Quebec who are ditching class and skipping internships this week in protest.

"Students across Quebec are blocking their courses [and] preventing them from happening so we can be [in] solidarity together," Jasmine Marcil, a second-year student training to be a teacher at the Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO), told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. 

"We have been fighting for 10 years. It's not a new thing."

Protests 'premature', minister says 

Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge called the walkout "premature." He said he asked his ministry to study the issue of unpaid internships as soon as he took office last month.

"I do not want to tell them what to do, but it is sincerely premature to launch a big, big mobilization to sensitize the government while we are taking action on the very issue that concerns them."

But the students say that they've waited long enough.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC

UQO student teacher Alexi Tremblay, 21, who's currently completing his teaching internship at École secondaire de l'Île in Gatineau, said he's feeling frustrated. 

"I am teaching from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. I actually have the teacher's responsibility for a few weeks," he said. "I'm not getting paid, and it's not only about the pay, but having working conditions, to be protected."

Some internships pay

Canadian students take part in some 300,000 internships annually, including 55,000 in Quebec.

Internships are paid in some disciplines, but not in industries traditionally seen as "feminine," such as teaching or social work, a discrepancy students see as unfair.

"I think we should be paid… We are taking the teachers's job and we are working as equals," said Rosalie Morin, also a student teacher at UQO.

"I think for us to be have … a good mental health, we need to be paid."